Understanding lakeshore ecosystems — Part 1

As users of lakes and lakeshores, we need to be vigilant about taking care of this irreplaceable natural resource.

Photo by Bindu Bhakta, MSU Extension
Photo by Bindu Bhakta, MSU Extension

There has been a flood of information in recent years about shorelines, erosion, erosion control, habitats along shorelines and shoreline ecosystems. In this serious of articles, I will address some of these issues and investigate how homeowners living along shorelines of inland lakes can enhance their shoreline property while trying to minimize the effect on the shoreline ecosystems.

Starting with the basics, let’s first discuss what is an ecosystem? An ecosystem is a natural unit consisting of all plant, animal and microorganism (biotic or living) factors in a given area, functioning together will all the physical (abiotic or nonliving) factors of the environment.

In researching this topic of shoreline ecosystems, the publication “Shoreline Alternations: Natural Buffers and Lakescaping” by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources states, “A natural shoreline is a complex ecosystem that sustains fish and wildlife and protects the entire lake. Native vegetation along the shore acts as a buffer zone, intercepting nutrients and reducing run off, erosion, and sedimentation. Aquatic plants provide food and shelter for ducks, songbirds, and other animals while reducing problems caused by Canada geese and burrowing muskrats. Plants growing in and near the water are critical for wildlife and fish habitat and a healthy lakeshore. Tall plants like bulrush, lake sedge and cattail can reduce the energy wave action to minimize erosion and help maintain water quality.”

There is a wealth of information available to homeowners living along lakeshores. Many of these fact sheets, books and articles address the thousands of lakes in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. These three states have the most lakes in the lower 48 within their states borders due to glacial action. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan State University Extension have excellent resources to help homeowners understand these complex ecosystems and how to maintain them, as well as to help restore lakeshores to a more natural state.

In Michigan alone, there are approximately 11,000 inland lakes with a surface area of more than 5 acres, with nearly 3,500 lakes with over 25 acres in size. Of these lakes, 730 of them are designated as public access lakes. It is vitally important for lakeshore property owners to care for the lakeshores to help maintain a good balance between the natural habitats and the recreational uses of the lakes. It is equally important for the recreational users to be vigilant with the use of the lakes and lakeshores as they enjoy fishing, boating, swimming and other activities on, in or near the water’s edge.

In this series of articles, I will share resources to help you get started on learning more about what you can do to keep your lake healthy, with a viable ecosystem for your enjoyment as well as the health of the wildlife on and near your shoreline.

Visit Michigan Inland Lade Shorelines to get started.

Other articles in series

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